The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is struggling to overcome the scandalous perception its former bosses and their acquaintances created in the minds of many.
Newly minted Executive Director Jamie Miller is taking the necessary steps to right the ship by restructuring the agency, implementing tighter controls, insisting on audits, and weeding out questionable employees.
But clouds continues to hover over DMR and it will as long as the public doesn’t see any tangible resolution to a matter that could very well reach deep into a number of coastal communities. Any good Miller does will be overshadowed until the light breaks through.
Saying there was a “culture of corruption” may be an understatement if the coffee talk rumors are proven true. In any coast community you can hear speculation on DMR’s drama along with whispers of who may be involved, from businessmen to former or current elected officials at every level. To hear some talk there may be as many as 30 indictments, or more, on the way; of course, that’s rumor.
The public expects the fallout to be quite robust given the well known relationships of the downstream players involved, and whether it is or not, the public appetite for a thorough house cleaning is likely to be left wanting.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering and his staff have been diligently working with federal investigators to pinpoint the exact nature of what transpired at DMR during former Executive Director Bill Walker’s tenure, scrutinizing transactions in an attempt to identify who was involved if indeed the perceived wrongdoing occurred in the state agency.
Such investigations take considerable time to connect the dots and it has drug on for months since the initial allegations were made public. People are ready for a resolution.
It would be advantageous for Pickering, Miller, DMR and a number of others along the coast (city and county officials, business people, consultants, etc.) to have a little sunshine begin to creep out over the horizon. The longer this lingers the worse it is for the public trust. The perception is that nothing is happening and the assumption is that most will find a way to wiggle off the hook. The public wants and deserves answers soon.
For the passive voter who sees a scandal in the headlines, it’s sometimes hard to keep the good guys and the bad guys straight. We began to see this when Pickering held a fundraiser in Ocean Springs this week. A handful of protesters made their way across the street from the private home where the event was being held. The home was owned by a consultant that had recently been contracted with DMR under Miller, a company not associated with the former DMR regime. But, as if that wasn’t enough fuel for the fire, the fundraiser just happened to be next door to Walker’s son’s home, which was awkward to say the least.
The longer the clouds linger the rumors grow like bad fish stories, conspiracy theories pop up and find attentive ears, and otherwise unrelated people become easy targets for public scrutiny.
Ideally, the people who did wrong in the DMR scandal will man up and cooperate fully with the investigation, putting this out in the open and behind us all.
And though there is some political risk involved in the DMR scandal (even in simply prosecuting it or trying to resolve it), good work is being done and hopefully voters can continue to see through the smoke to tell the good guys from the bad.